ITHACA, N.Y. –– The sounds of Cher, Fleetwood Mac and Christina Aguilera blared through DeWitt Park Saturday evening, as community members sang along to celebrate Pride.

More than 100 attendees danced to “queeraoke,” cheered on performers and called for liberation at Saturday’s Ithaca Pride protest and celebration that capped off a day filled with Pride events in Downtown Ithaca.

Organized by the Ithaca Pantheras and other local groups, the evening event burst to life with songs from the Ithaca Gay Men’s Choir and drag performances in a night that finished with a dance party at the center of the park.

As the evening kicked off, attendees and organizers took to the microphone not only to sing, but to deliver speeches reminding those gathered across the lawn that Pride started as a protest against police brutality, led by Black trans women.  

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” the crowd chanted twice during the night. “It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Local law enforcement was not welcome at the event, a decision that Pride organizations in cities across the country have been also making because of historic and ongoing discrimination by police against the LGBTQ+ community. 

For Ginger Vicious, a drag queen who performed at the event, celebrating Pride means “causing good trouble, just breaking rules by being who we are and making it fun.”

“Pride means to be proud of who you are, despite the interlocking systems of oppression that try to kill us or jail us or beat us or take away our rights, our access to health care, our access to marriage,” Vicious said before the event, “our access to just living our lives, having families doing whatever it is we want to do.”

Performers hold up the transgender pride flag at Saturday’s Ithaca Pride event.

Others who attended said this year’s Ithaca Pride celebration felt even more pressing — one of the first large gatherings the queer communty has hosted since the start of the pandemic as in-person events once again spring up across the city

Davi McCrea said Ithaca Pride was the first big gathering they attended since the virus hit, saying they joined the crowd celebrating in the park because there haven’t been many in-person Pride events this month. For Timothy, an attendee who preferred to use only his first name for privacy reasons, gathering for Pride didn’t feel optional. 

“Any time, especially after COVID, that we can gather and just show our strength then it’s kind of mandatory, in a good way,” said Timothy, who grew up in Ithaca and came of age during the AIDS crisis. “That took away the freedom we thought we had, because we were being stigmatized.”

Other events earlier on Saturday highlighted Ithaca’s LGBTQ+ history. More than a dozen people gathered downtown in the afternoon for the Ithaca LGBTQ+ History Walking Tour. Tour guides walked attendees through five stops—the Southern Tier AIDS Program that recently relocated to a building on West State Street, Firebrand Books and Smedleys Book Shop, Common Ground Dance Club and the former location of a transgender support group. 

The Ithaca Pride celebration and protest was originally scheduled to be held at Bernie Milton Pavilion, but an event permit granted by the City of Ithaca for the “Rally for America” on Saturday undercut those plans — organized by a local right-wing activist. However, a crowd never showed at the pavilion on Saturday.  

As Saturday’s festivities came to a close at the park, community members danced beneath the rainbow lights, celebrating their individual and collective identities. 

“Pride, in many ways, is just ‘We’re still here, we’re still living,” Timothy said. “We’re still prevalent and you’re not going to make us go away.’” 

Ithaca Voice interns Mikayla Rovenolt and Madeline Rosenberg wrote this report.

Correction: Leadership of the local “Back the Blue” rallies have said they had no part in organizing the “Rally for America” despite the organizer’s involvement with aforementioned events.